October 8, 2015

Erdogan's Autocratic System of Government

Abdulazeez Ahmed

A FLASHBACK would literally remind you of the major corrupt scandal that erupted in Turkey, in December 2013, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was Prime Minister of the country. With him were four cabinet ministers, three sons of cabinet ministers and the head of the biggest public bank and high profile businessmen. Scores of arrests were carried during the period.

However, the government immediately sacked the prosecutors and reassigned 350 police officers, including many senior officers. Contrarily, on 25 December 2013, police refused to carry out orders for the arrest and detention of a further tranche of suspects and the prosecutor leading the second investigation was removed from the case.

Following this, thousands of police and hundreds of public prosecutors, judges and civil servants, perceived by the Turkish government to be followers of the Hizmet movement, have since been dismissed or reassigned, and in some cases arrested and detained.

The Gülen movement, commonly known as Hizmet movement, is a transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen. The movement though has no official name, but it is usually referred to as Hizmet ("the Service") by its followers or as Cemaat ("the Community/Assembly") by the broader public in Turkey.

The movement has attracted supporters and critics in Turkey, Central Asia, and in other parts of the world. The group is active in education with private schools and universities in over 180 countries as well as many American charter schools operated by followers.

Autocratically, Erdogan brought the main institution responsible for the judiciary, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, under its control by purging its members of anyone suspected of opposing the Justice Development Party (AKP) government. In the wake of the Gezi Park demonstrations in June 2013 and the government's corruption scandal, it has increasingly used repressive measures, including restrictions on freedom of the press and interference with social media, to stifle free reporting and public debate. This included those believed to be supporters of the Hizmet movement and replacing them with loyal supporters.

According to The Guardian, nearly 70 journalists are being prosecuted in Turkey for their reporting of the December 2013 incident.

For example, on 6 February 2014, Mahir Zeynalov, a reporter for Today's Zaman and an Azerbaijani national, was deported due to his journalism on Twitter and put on a list of foreign individuals barred from entering Turkey because of "posting tweets critical of high-level state officials".

Erdogan further came up with a more restrictive internet law, and after leaked audio recordings that supported the corruption allegations emerged on Twitter and YouTube, blocked access to both sites throughout the country in the run- up to local elections in March and April 2014 and the general election in 2015.

An indispensable condition for democracy is the existence of separation of powers. Separation of powers can be achieved by ensuring the independence of the judiciary and other arms of government.

But with the recent happenings in Turkey, the ruling party has crooked whatever is remaining of the judicial independence for its personal interest. Freedom to speak on political matters is a cornerstone of democracy, and is closely related to the enjoyment of a number of other key human rights, particularly freedom of thought as well as those of assembly and association.

It plays an indispensable role in the development of a healthy intellectual and political discourse within a democratic society. Freedom of expression has been described as "the primary right in a democracy," one without which "effective rule of law is not possible".

The mechanisms used to oppress Hizmet-affiliated journalists and media companies existed before the AKP came to power, but the government has used them with increasing frequency and force.

The concerted actions since December 2013 against journalists associated with the Hizmet movement are unfortunately just one example of AKP's determination to intimidate and suppress a free press and full public debate of political issues in Turkey.

The Justice Development Party is viciously emasculating every opposing view. It is unlucky that in Turkey, there is nothing close to justice for anyone who fails to align himself with the rhythm of the ruling party.

Like many observers of events in Turkey, it gives me a serious concern watching the highest form of impunity and inhumanity taking place in modern day history. How would a judge be arrested for delivering a just judgment? Why should a president want to cage anyone who fails to dance to his music? But this is rather the pathetic ugly development in Turkey.

Analysts have revealed that even the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSKY) are not immune to pressure from the ruling party.

Two judges reportedly suspended unjustly and later arrested and detained for delivering judgment that did not favour the President.

It was reported also that the two judges, Mustafa Başer, the Judge of the Istanbul 32nd Court of First Instance, and Metin Özçelik, the Judge of Istanbul 29th Court of First Instance, were allegedly arrested recently.

This followed their rulings for the release of Samanyolu Broadcasting Group CEO Hidayet Karaca and 63 police officers. Reports have it that the judges were accused of being members of a terrorist organisation.

It was estimated that approximately 40,000 police officers, civil servants, judges and public prosecutors have either been dismissed, reassigned, suspended or detained outrightly since the December 2013.

The Turkish government apparently hope that by taking these extreme steps, it would silence dissenting voices. But can it? The answer is obviously negative. Except the histories we know of dictators are fairytales.

Published on The Guardian, 8 October 2015, Thursday